Quality By John Galsworthy
Introduction: The fiction “Quality” written by John Galsworthy in 1912 is a touching and sad story of Gessler Brothers and their exceptional honesty, resolution, humility and commitment towards their art of shoemaking. They used to dedicate their complete energy in making boots. According to the author, the boots would never tear for years and hence in spite of his desire, he could not go to the Gessler Brothers. With time, new factories emerged that manufactured cheaper boots though they were not durable. This affected the Gessler Brothers‘ business and they died.
The title of the story “Quality” implies in the context of the story that in today’s world there is a decline of quality in work due to industrialisation. It took away the bread and butter of artists, artisans, craftsmen and those who loved doing their work.
Thus, the title of the story is intended to emphasize the importance of values and principles in life. Gessler sticks to one principle through the thick in thin of life without compromising oh his standards which he has set for himself. Gessler‘s devotion to one single virtue is so intense and single-minded that he not only loses his business and clientele but his life. In a way Gessler is a martyr to upholding values in life and symbolizes idealistic principles. However, the title is also ironical because a minor adjustment in what Gessler so staunchly believes to be his driving principle would have saved him and his brother from penury and misery.
Artist: An artist is a person who is skilled at some activity related to art. Any artisan who loves his art and immersed in it can be respectfully called as an artist. Therefore, we can call a Carpenter, a Sculptor, a Shoemaker, a Pottery maker as an artist.
Read Also: Questions and Answers of Quality
1) Gessler Brothers: Mr.Gessler (Younger brother) is the central character (protagonist) in the story. He stands for a high degree of passion in his art of shoemaking. Both the brothers died due to financial loss in the business.
2) The Narrator: The narrator is a very loyal customer and fan of Mr Gessler’s shoemaking. There is deep bonding between Mr Gessler (Younger brother) and the narrator. The story unfolds to the readers through the narrator’s action in the story.
3) The Englishman: The Englishman took over Mr.Gessler’s shop who told the narrator about Mr Gessler’s struggle and his failure due to lack of advertisement, ultimately his death due to starvation.
• Commitment to one’s work. Every worker is an artist if he loves his work and immersed in it.
• Competition between small business and big firms.
• The tragedy of Gessler brothers signified that human values are threatened by material gain.
The story highlights the virtues of hard work, honesty, resolution, compassion, humility and commitment. The theme of loss and death is also woven into the story with both Mr Gessler and his brother dying in the story. However, the idea of honest work’s pay and dedication to quality work is celebrated, both in times of scarcity and plenty.
The language used in the story is simple though not colloquial. One of the important aspects is the use of native accents in the speech of Mr Gessler. He immigrated from Germany therefore there is pull of his mother tongue on the acquired language, English. When Mr Gessler speaks p, t, k sound like b, d, g
The story starts with the description of the boot shop. On top is the nameplate “Gessler Brothers” and a few shoes displayed in the window. The Gesslers make shoes on order. The narrator then narrates one of his meetings with Mr Gessler. He says it has not been possible to go to him much because the shoes he made have lasted very long and are the best of their kind.
One day the narrator goes to their shop to get a pair of Russian-leather shoes. Mr Gessler retreats upstairs and comes back after some time holding a fine golden Russian leather piece for the boots. One day the narrator goes to their boot shop and tells him that the shoes he got from them creaked. After a long pause, Mr Gessler asks him to bring the shoes to him. He assures that if he cannot repair them, he will give the money back.
Another day he goes to the Gessler Brothers to order a new pair, wearing a pair of shoes which he bought due to some emergency from a big firm. Mr Gessler at once recognizes that the shoes are not made by him. He touches a particular spot on the narrator’s shoe where it isn‘t comfortable for the narrator and says that it hurts there. He expresses his contempt that those large firms attract customers through shiny impressive advertisements to sell their inferior quality products. Then the author explains to him under what circumstances he had to buy those shoes.
The new shoes lasted nearly two years. And in his next visit, he receives quite a shock. When he enters the shop, he sees the younger Gessler brother who informs him of elder Gessler‘s death. That day he orders several pairs. It takes longer to make them but the quality is even better than the previous ones. Soon after, the narrator leaves for abroad and returns after over a year. The first shop he goes to is Mr Gessler’s. Mr Gessler, now seventy-five, is unable to recognize him at first. The narrator gives a huge order. The wait is longer than ever but the quality only gets better. After a week, while passing the little street, the narrator thinks to go in and tell Mr Gessler that the boots were perfect. But when he goes to the place where the shop was, the name plate is no longer there. He finds out that the shoemaker had died because of starvation and lack of resources.
The story ‘Quality’ opens with the narrator’s deep bonding with the Mr.Gessler (Younger brother). Mr Gessler was a great and passionate artist. He would make boots on order. The boots would last long. His shop “Gessler Brothers” was like a church.
The setting of the story is in the fashionable part of London. Gessler brothers basically were immigrants from Germany. They had set up the shoe-making shop in a small by-street of London for their livelihood.
The first meeting of the narrator was when Mr Gessler made boots from Russian – leather. When the narrator asked Mr.Gessler about the difficulties in his task of making boots, he answered in his German accent, “Id is an ardt!”(It is an art) As the story progresses, the narrator familiarizes the readers with the ways of Mr Gessler and this sense of familiarity is important in understanding the story.
Once the narrator has had a small complaint regarding the boots made by Mr Gessler, Mr Gessler promises to take it back and cancel the charges.
This shows the humility of the artist. Art requires humility and Mr Gessler’s humility helped him improve his craft. Mr.Gessler believed in “work is worship”.
Once the narrator absentmindedly enters the man’s workplace wearing a pair of boots he bought at some large firm. Mr Gessler quickly tells him those are not his boots. Saying so, he presses his fingers on a part of the boot where comfort was compromised in the pursuit of style.
“It ‘urds you dere,” he said. “Dose big virms ‘ave no self-respect.”……. “dey get id by advertisement, a nod by work”.
The first time Mr Gessler spoke out his mental pain, his struggle to compete against big firms which spread their business with the help of advertisement. They compromised with the quality of their product. Therefore Gessler brothers suffered a lot. This scene generates pathos in sensitive readers. Their small business was crippled in front of the mall business which was showy without quality.
But the passionate artist neither gave up nor compromised with the quality of his work. Listening Mr.Gessler’s heart, the narrator grew sympathetic and gave a big order of boots. Thereafter the narrator couldn’t visit him for two years.
The narrator very often visited his shop for placing orders of boots.
Therefore the story is seen through the narrator’s point of view. The narrator tells us what is going in in the life of Mr Gessler…
The next time when the narrator went to Mr Gessler, he received the sad news of his elder brother’s death. Even then the younger brother continued to run the shop with Great Spirit. The sympathetic narrator again put a huge order of boots with Mr Gessler. He prepared excellent boots. Every shoe he made spoke for itself and therefore they didn’t require any name-dropping.
As the story progresses still further the narrator went abroad for a year. On arrival, he again placed the order of boots to Mr Gessler. The narrator received the boots and happily wrote a cheque and himself posted the cheque.
On his last visit to Mr Gessler to thank him for the splendid boots he made, the narrator shocked to see an English man had taken over the shop. He informed the narrator about the death of Mr.Gesssler due to starvation. It is indeed the tragic end of the story. Mr Gessler could not meet both ends, whatever he earned went into leather and rent of the shop. The tragedy is heightened by the fact that even the Englishman agreed that he (Mr Gessler) made the best boots in London. This acknowledgement was the tribute to Mr Gessler and his art.
Character of Mr Gessler
Mr Gessler is the younger of the two Gessler brothers and the protagonist of the short story. We cannot help but admire, as well as deeply sympathize with Mr Gessler, for being an extremely skilled and committed shoemaker. His skin is leathery, yellowish, crinkled and his eyes are grey-blue and sombre with a look of utter commitment and seriousness. He has crinkly, curly, red hair, and a thick red beard. His voice is deep, guttural, monotonous, and he speaks with a heavy German accent. He seems a little stooped and bent because of hard work.
A shoemaker by profession he has devoted his whole life to making the best quality shoes for his customers. Mr Gessler is a serious, sober person with no inclination towards being frivolous or humorous. He is a perfectionist and gives only the best to his customers. He does not compromise on quality and is unable to adjust with the changing times.
In spite of their popularity, the Gessler Brothers begin to lose valued customers as they do not keep up with the changing demands and trends. Their rigid, fixed attitudes and work ethics see them lose business gradually and steadily, resulting in their ill health and starvation.
Towards the end of their lives, Mr Gessler and his brother begin to look upon the big firms as the enemy that would ultimately take away all their business.
It is hard not to sympathize with Mr Gessler and his misfortune and tragic end. If only he and his brother would have welcomed the technology and accommodated new people while teaching them the skill of shoemaking.
Mr Gessler died possibly because of his merit which has no value in the world of advertisements. The advertisements, mad pursuit of profit by the big firms have ruined the quality of the products and killed the artist with “quality” like Mr Gessler.